Weekly Wisdom 7:
Limitations of Our Minds
The mind is a valuable tool to help us survive in this materialistic, relative world. We are used to the mind weaving intricate labyrinths of thought processes, mind maps and problem-solving techniques which apparently help us “cope” and “survive”. On the one hand, the mind’s workings are the key to our survival. On the other hand, they thwart our ability to live well and fully.
The mind fears that you will simply shut it down like a production line which is no longer needed. The mind is not interested in leading you to go above and beyond yourself. Neither does it have the tools to do so. It proposes all kinds of methods to make you think even more deeply, solve crossword puzzles and continuously train yourself “mentally”. It wants you to get involved in complicated discussions in which you end up quarreling, thinking about and focusing on trivialities.
Thinking is a wild monkey
What happens in our minds is pure chaos. Our thoughts are undisciplined, acting like leaping monkeys spontaneously and willfully jumping from one branch to the next. “Thinking is a wild monkey” said Zen Master Linji. In fact, thinking is a confusing mess!
The purpose of the existence of your mind is to enable you to use it to transform your experience and knowledge into wisdom. Your mind places what you have learned at your disposal. This allows you to store, re-use and draw upon it whenever you like. However, the mind has another proclivity. It exploits your experiences to distract you from living in the present moment.
It leads you away from the here and now
This is because of your mind’s propensity to contemplate and dwell on everything imaginable, also encompassing the thoughts behind your thoughts – instead of its being in the here and now. It should be noted that the mind possesses such useful skills as the ability to ward off harm by anticipating and planning. However, it also drags along a burdensome and heavy backpack whose size varies depending on the individual. This “backpack” is full of our experiences of the past and the judgments – seemingly good or bad – that we have pronounced on them. The mind also contains misgivings, apprehensions, fears, visions and fantasies about the future.
All I know is that I know nothing
The famous statement attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates, “All I know is that I know nothing,” points out to us that the logical mind cannot grasp the Absolute Isness.
The mind is not the instrument we need to cause wisdom to blossom. Logic lacks the ability to take us where we need to go. How can we believe it is possible to use a tool with inherent limits – our minds – to discover what is boundless and unlimited?
You mind is like a full teacup.
There are many versions of a well-known story about a university professor who visited Zen Master Nan-in during the Meiji era in Japan and was invited to drink a cup of tea. The Zen Master poured tea until the professor’s cup was full, and then kept on pouring until the tea was all over the table and on the floor.
The professor beseeched him to stop because the cup was already full. Nan-in replied, “Your mind is like this teacup. You are so full of your own opinions, knowledge and prejudices that nothing more can be added. Empty your mind so that you can learn something new.”
When the mind abides in stillness and when thinking has finally stopped, movement becomes deep serenity, and you open the door to the divine.
If you want to know more about how to abide in stillness and stop your thinking, read “Find the Seeker” available as a paperback or e-book.